The LA Rams could have the most all-around talent of any team in the NFC but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they should stop the search for better depth — the real key to surviving a 17-game regular season and potentially four more in the playoffs. The Rams could even get lucky in the draft and find a couple of immediate role players but this particular offseason could offer some of the better veteran free agent options after March than any previous year.
Some quality players remain on the free agent market after getting released, and more are going to become cap casualties and trade assets in the coming months prior to Week 1.
It is not necessarily 100% accurate or 100% relevant, but OvertheCap currently projects the Rams with $7.6 million in 2021 cap space.
Zach Ertz, TE (in trade or post-release)
The Eagles have held onto Ertz this long but it does seem like a separation could be coming. The team might come to accept that they won’t get a decent draft pick in 2021 and either accept a fifth round choice this year, a fourth round choice in 2022, or to release Ertz outright and let him choose his destination.
The Rams do not have an apparent need at tight end today, but it’s not difficult to see why more weapons for Matthew Stafford would be appropriate. If anything happened to Cooper Kupp, for instance, the depth would be Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson (if he is healthy), Cam Akers, Tyler Higbee, Van Jefferson, and Brycen Hopkins.
Have four pass-catching weapons at once is good, but not being one Kupp injury away from Higbee as your number two target is the real reason why LA should be continuing to search for receivers and tight ends.
It feels like Ertz has been in the league for a long time, but he’s only 30 and his numbers from 2020 come with a major asterisk, even if it’s not a *Pro Bowl asterisk. He did what he could in a non-supportive environment for pass-catchers.
Kwon Alexander, LB
I’ve mentioned Alexander before and I’m copying myself now to mention him again. Alexander remains a free agent and linebacker remains a need for LA, but it appears that most, if not all of these names will have to wait until after the draft to find their next home.
Geno Atkins, DT
If a team grabs Atkins, who was released by the Bengals after he was due to make $9.5 million in salary, for about $3 million, is that better than the Cardinals signing J.J. Watt for $23 million guaranteed? While I have a hard time following Watt’s contract with three void years, it appears that Arizona is on the hook for a $15.9 million cap hit in 2022 and the best they could hope for is to continue to spread that out over void years. Of course, the Cardinals hope that Watt is simply good and he’ll be a bargain with a $4.9 million cap hit in 2021 — and I think Watt is still better than most people think — but is there a chance that by comparison Atkins is being underrated?
Atkins is almost exactly one year older than Watt.
Atkins did little more than get a few rotational snaps over eight games last season, but prior to that hadn’t missed a game since 2013. Watt played over 1,000 snaps in 2020, but missed the majority of the 2016, 2017, and 2019 seasons.
Neither player was necessarily playing for great teams most of the time. Both could be reinvigorated by playing on more successful teams, surrounded by more talent. But is Atkins going to be the better bargain?
The Rams lost both Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox and while those three players and Atkins are all different sizes, with different strengths, it’s an area that could use veteran help. LA didn’t necessarily have great depth there to begin with and the defensive line could get even weaker with another A’Shawn Robinson setback. Will Atkins come at a discount or are all of his good days behind him?
Casey Hayward, CB
The Chargers are bringing back a lot of the same roster from last season, hoping that changes at head coach and center, the return of Joey Bosa and Derwin James, and the continued development of Justin Herbert will lead to improvements that help LA make it back to the playoffs. What Staley didn’t feel was essential was bringing back Hayward at an $11 million cap hit, so he was released.
Hayward has an exceptional resume for a veteran free agent cornerback at this stage of the offseason — he could have been the best at his position during his first two seasons with the Chargers in 2016-2017 — but he’s fallen off considerably over the last three years.
If Hayward wants to stay in LA on a cheap, one-year deal though, then he could be in a great position to have value as a talented defense’s third-best corner. Similar to what the Rams had in Troy Hill last season, but the Rams weren’t going to give him a four-year deal like the Bengals did.
Hayward is 31 and the two games he missed in 2020 were his first two games missed since 2013. Like Atkins, he’s actually been very reliable throughout his career.